Kirk Siegel has always been involved with the outdoors.He spent four years competing for the U.S. Biathlon Team, 10 years teaching and coaching cross-country skiing at Gould Academy, and 18 years doing real estate and conservation law in South Paris and Bethel. Executive director of the Mahoosuc Land Trust since January 2018, Siegel is working to conserve the 500-acre Ginny McCoy property in Gilead, Bethel and Newry. He lives in Albany Township with Martha, his wife of almost 27 years, and they still find time to ski. Their daughter, Molly, works in rural development on Isle au Haut, and their son, Andrew, is a sophomore at the University of Vermont.
I was born in the Lake Tahoe area in Truckee, California, right up in the high Sierras near Donner Summit. My parents ran the ski lodge at Walt Disney’s Ski Resort called Sugar Bowl. When I was about 3, my parents let me walk on skis a couple 100 yards from our house to the lift with skiers all around me.
My parents met at a ski resort called Alta. My mom, who was from St. Louis, Missouri, was an accomplished powder skier in her early 20s. My dad, who was from Salt Lake City, lost his leg in a skiing accident when he was 26. He had a below-the-knee amputation, but he learned to ski again and skied until he was 80. Without me realizing it, my dad became an inspiration of how not to let adversity slow you down.
After Sugar Bowl, my dad was the manager of Mountain Operations at Park City. Then when I was going into the first grade, my dad became the marketing director at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire.
We moved to North Andover, Massachusetts, when I was in third grade. It was really hard to leave the beautiful mountains. I could not get back to the mountains fast enough.
When I was 13, I got a scholarship at Holderness in New Hampshire. Holderness is right near Waterville Valley and adjacent to the White Mountain National Forest. There was an outing club, ski team, ski jumping, and cross-country. It was heaven.
Though I was a mediocre downhill ski racer and a terrible ski jumper, I was a cross country runner. Junior year, when I started figuring out that I was an OK cross-country skier, I saw a picture of a biathlon race in a ski racing magazine. I was captivated. I stuck the article up in my room. I said, “I want to do that.”
I went to Dartmouth, where I ended up being a Division I cross-country skier. The new coach was a former Olympic biathlete. It took a couple of years, but eventually a few of us talked him into coaching biathlon.
I was on the U.S. Biathlon Team for two years while I was in college and two afterward. I tried out for the Olympic Team in 1984, but I did not make it. I came to work at Gould three days after the Olympic trials as an intern in the English department and a cross-country ski coach.
Though I had only been to Maine one time in my life, Western Maine was a perfect place for me. It had a combination of the mountains and the ski world that I grew up in. It was also far enough from suburbia to be an inspiring place to live, with enough of an economy to support an interesting community.
I had always been interested in working with young skiers. I’d had a tremendous opportunity to compete and travel internationally when I was on the national biathlon team. It seemed natural to want to give back. Gould gave me a chance to keep my hand in a sport I really loved. I also discovered the Mahoosuc Region.
One thing that came out of being a young, single faculty member with an interest in the outdoors and conservation was being involved with local organizations. One of those was the Mahoosuc Land Trust.
One day after a small group of us founded the land trust, we were messing around with legal documents. I realized none of us were attorneys. That I got me interested in law school.
I went to the University of Maine School of Law in 1994. I really liked law school. I’d had 10 years off. I was hungry to learn and excited to be a student again. I love to read and write and discuss issues. I did not find it to be drudgery. It sounds boring, but I found it challenging and exciting to develop the ability to think and write clearly and analyze problems and issues, things that are useful in any part of your life or profession.
I spent my first year out in a clerkship with the Maine Supreme Court with Justice Robert Clifford. Then, I practiced real estate and conservation law, which I sometimes did outside of Oxford County. I also did a lot of pro bono work for land trusts.
In 2017, when the position of executive director of the Mahoosuc Land Trust opened up, I applied. I started the job on Jan. 1, 2018. I really liked practicing law, but it was a great move for me.
The Western Maine Mountains are a globally important region from an ecological standpoint. The five million acres that comprise it are part of the largely unfragmented forest that runs across New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and into Quebec and the Maritimes, the largest (such forest) in the Eastern half of the United States. It’s just so important to have connected landscapes where wildlife and habitat can move. It is super important to our region, our state, and our planet.
By Pam Chodosh, Advertiser Democrat, April 4, 2019